Befriending Risky Peers

Factors Driving Adolescents' Selection of Friends with Similar Marijuana Use

Published in: Journal of Youth and Adolescence, v. 44, 2015, p. 1914-1928

Posted on RAND.org on March 17, 2015

by Kayla de la Haye, Harold D. Green, Michael Pollard, David P. Kennedy, Joan S. Tucker

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Adolescents often befriend peers who are similar to themselves on a range of demographic, behavioral, and social characteristics, including substance use. Similarities in lifetime history of marijuana use have even been found to predict adolescent friendships, and we examine whether this finding is explained by youth's selection of friends who are similar on a range of more proximate, observable characteristics that are risk factors for marijuana use. Using two waves of individual and social network data from two high schools that participated in Add Health (N = 1,612; 52.7 % male), we apply longitudinal models for social networks to test whether or not several observable risky attributes (psychological, behavioral, and social) predict adolescent friendship choices, and if these preferences explain friend's similarities on lifetime marijuana use. Findings show that similarities on several risk factors predict friendship choices, however controlling for this, the preference to befriend peers with a similar history of marijuana use largely persists. The results highlight the range of social selection processes that lead to similarities in marijuana use among friends and larger peer groups, and that also give rise to friendship groups whose members share similar risk factors for substance use. Friends with high "collective risk" are likely to be important targets for preventing the onset and social diffusion of substance use in adolescents.

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